by Kamilah Cadogan
She captured the hearts of all those at the Schools Choir Competition last month. While the students of the CHEKS programme were on stage displaying their skills in tuk band, Landship and stilt walking, no one expected to see four-year-old Eja Sehntwali walk onto the stage with an infectious smile that lit up the entire Gymnasium.
Little Eja got her start at the tender age of three following in the “stilt steps” of her 10-year-old brother Zuri, who is a part of the CHEKS programme at St. Paul’s Primary under the tutelage of Troy Hunte.
Both Hunte and her father Len Sentwali describe her as being adventurous. While they both hone their skill on afternoons at St. Paul’s, they also attend lessons conducted by Hunte every other Sunday in Queen’s Park.
“Whatever she sees Zuri do she wants to do,” said Len.
When asked why she was not scared on the stilts, she confidently replied, “Because you have to be brave.” This was such a fitting response, as Len explained their surname “Sehntwali” meant “brave ones”.
“And my name means…” Eja started.
“Eja means fish,” Len supplied.
“I am a stilt walker fishy!” Eja said, flashing her mega watt smile.
Eja stands at a mere 3′ 7″ and her stilts, made by her father, are two feet tall. But of course she did not start with stilts that height. When she started showing interest in stilt walking, her father made her tiny wooden clogs from plywood to get her accustomed to walking on something other than her two feet.
After that, she strapped on a pair of stilts and trusted herself in Troy’s hands. He would hold her and let her feel out the stilts. Eventually, he let her go and told her to walk to him.
Now fast forward to Sunday in Queen’s Park, where Eja was so fast on those stilts that you had to jog sometimes to catch up with her.
Her brother Zuri got his start on stilts at eight years old. He saw stilt walkers in the CHEKS programme after school and thought it looked like fun so he decided to join. Len made him his first pair of stilts which he eventually outgrew. His current pair he received from veteran stilt walker Ife. Len used these stilts as a blueprint to make stilts for Zuri’s friend and classmate Justin Bramao, who was the third participant in Hunte’s Sunday lesson.
Hunte, who has been involved with the CHEKS programme since 1998, has been stilt walking for 22 years and is currently a member of the group Amuser. Eja is the youngest student he has ever taught. He describes her as a quick learner and expects her to go very far because she likes to challenge herself. She is always willing to try something new and shows little fear. She was more than willing to attempt a new challenge, walking down stairs. With a bit of prodding, she walked down a couple of the steps unassisted, as people walking in the Park stopped and regarded her with amazement.
Although this would be Zuri’s last year at St. Paul’s and he may no longer be able to continue stilt walking with the CHEKS programme, her father expects Eja will continue stilt walking because she loves it and she is very independent.
Eja also loves to dance and loves being in the limelight.
Len firmly believes that a programme like this is needed because it is a non-traditional form of learning.
“Barbadian children should be taught in a Barbadian way. There is a certain ‘Barbadian-ness’ about these things that need to be emphasised or need to be a part of the whole [teaching] process.”
If Sunday’s lesson was any indication, it is certain that young Eja will go on to make a name for herself in stilt walking. Her adventurous spirit and her repetition of the words “I want to do it again!” will take her far, not only in stilt walking, but also in life. firstname.lastname@example.org